A strong friend in Boston
I usually take a bit of a ribbing for describing Boston as the Capital of Irish America.
“Didn’t you just use that line in Chicago?” asked one wag when I addressed a reception in the State House on Thursday past. “Or was it New York you said was the capital of Irish America, or San Francisco or Savannah or Scranton?”
It’s hard being a politician.
So let me say this after a 48-hour-visit to Boston: no city does more practical work to build golden bridges of commerce, culture and community with the North of Ireland than Boston.
It’s not just that Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston focuses more on the peace than on plámas, more on results than rhetoric in his partnership with the people of the North. Though that certainly helps.
And neither is it only a matter of the deep and enduring links between Boston/Massachusetts and Ireland — though they truly are breathtaking.
Take Massachusetts Comptroller Thomas Shack and Treasurer Deborah Goldberg.
Two office holders, you might think, who wouldn’t be as up on their Irish connections as, for example, Senator Tom McGee or Rep Dan Ryan.
But you’d be wrong. On introduction, Comptroller Shack proudly declared himself “seven-eighths Irish”. Treasurer Goldberg meanwhile rightfully considers herself honorary Irish. Her father was among the founders of the American Ireland Fund and she has holidayed in Ireland many times with her friend and former Irish senator Feargal Quinn.
As always, the green carpet was rolled out for us in Boston. The Irish American Partnership — the premier Irish philanthropic organisation with a unrivalled commitment to building peace and reconciliation in the North — was kind enough to host a breakfast to mark my visit while Mayor Marty Walsh took time out of his busy schedule to catch up with the progress of the Boston-Belfast Sister City agreement which we signed back in 2014.
I have the good fortune to meet inspiring Irish American leaders on my travels and am grateful for their continuing efforts. For as I told many of them in Boston on Thursday and Friday: I have much work for you in the time ahead.
Many ask me how they can help. My answer is to follow the lead of Marty Walsh. His sister city agreement with Belfast has led to a step-change in relations between the two cities, spinning off initiatives such as the Friendship Four ice hockey tournament, an unforgettable visit by the Belfast Community Gospel Choir to Boston and annual business exchanges.
Indeed, on visits to two companies with Invest NI on Friday, I found that sister city agreement to be the perfect calling card. If Belfast is good enough to be a sister city of the leading life sciences, education and, yes, Irish city of America, it must have something going for it was the reaction.
The only question now, as we build a Fresh Start to our relationship with the diaspora, is who will follow the bold leadership of Marty Walsh and forge another transatlantic twin cities relationship? Philadelphia and Derry anyone?